Saturday, December 2, 2017

Middle Kingdom Hair Dressing

Fig. 1 - Wig of a Dyn. 12 princess
    Humans have changed remarkably little in thousands of years. While this should probably not be surprising, I am frequently reminded of it during the course of studying the ancient Near East. From Hammurapi's law code, which lists legal cases that could occur today as well of thousands of years ago, to more mundane things like the ancients attempting to enhance their attractiveness by their choice of clothing it is remarkable how similar we are to the ancients.

     One example of this is hair dressing. In ancient Egypt women seem to have often shaved their heads (to keep cooler?), but they seem to have worn wigs when socializing or appearing in public. Figure 1 shows a reconstructed wig from the Middle Kingdom which is in the Metropolitan Museum. The owner was a princess who could afford to have it decorated with gold ringlets. No doubt she had a full complement of jewelry to wear with the wig as well has a mirror to admire the results.

     Often the wigs needed more hair added into them to repair damage of give them a fuller look. A scene from the tomb of the 11th Dynasty Queen Neferu (raging of Montuhotep II) shows one of her attendants styling the royal wig. The Queen is also wearing a broad collar and is obviously preparing for some party or affair of state. In a scene from the same tomb (figure 3) one of the Queen's attendants is preparing a new lock of hair that can be added to the Queen's wig.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Copying Tombs in the Valley of t he Kings

     Modern technology is doing some fascinating things in the Valley of the Kings. I reported a while back that a full reproduction of the tomb of Tutankhamen had been created and opened to the public. Computers were used to scan the paintings in the burial chamber and to create a full sized replica of the tomb. This technology creates a snapshot in time of the tomb so that future archaeologists can compare the current state of the tomb to the scan to determine if there has been any deterioration in the tomb.

     This technology is being used in other tombs now. For instance, the entire tomb of Seti I is being scanned and a full size replication of part of the tomb has been opened to the public while the remainder of the tomb is being reproduced. This reproduction, which includes the Pharaoh's burial chamber is on display in Basel, Switzerland and includes a copy of Seti's calcite sarcophagus (now in the John Soane Museum in London).

     The new issue of KMT magazine just arrived in my mailbox and they have an article on a special exhibit dedicated to Amenhotep II currently open in Milan, Italy. One of the things mentioned in the article is a full sized reproduction of Amenhotep II's burial chamber. Looking at photos in the article certainly gives the impression that the tomb has been faithfully and accurately copied.

     If you cannot get to Egypt, the Valley of the Kings can now come to you!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

a New "Chamber" in the Great Pyramid??

     A team of scientists have scanned the great pyramid at Giza using cosmic rays and have found a large "void" or empty space in the pyramid. What exactly this void is, is uncertain at this time. No entrance to it is known and it could be pretty much anything at this point.

     My initial thought was that this may be a "relieving" chamber that was included to help keep the pyramid from collapsing due to its immense wait. Dr. Aiden Dodson has been quoted as suggesting the same thing. 

     There is some suggestions that this space is a second "grand gallery" like the one that leads to Khufu's burial chamber, but his is nothing more than speculation at this point.

     As new information becomes available, I will post it here.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Middle Kingdom Sphinx Head

Figure 1
     There are quite a number of sphinxes known from Egypt's Middle Kingdom. For instance, there is the very large sphinx, now in the Louvre in Paris, that was originally made in Dynasty 12 but later re-carved for the Hyksos (Dynasty 15) Pharaoh Apophis. One of the most interesting of the Middle Kingdom sphinxes, though, is the much smaller one represented only by a head that is now in the Brooklyn Museum.

Figure 2
     What makes this piece unusual is that it is a sphinx with the head of a woman, most likely a Queen or Princess. Originally this piece had inlaid eyes, possibly of metal, which were pried out at some point in history (you can see the damage to one of the eye sockets from this removal in figure 1).

     The face of this carving does not have the careworn features so common in the statues of Dynasty 12 kings and has rather heavy eyebrows and  pointed chin that lends a certain softness to the piece.

     The Brooklyn Museum dates this piece to the reign of Amenemhat II and says that it may have been found at Hadrian's villa, just outside of Rome. A couple of years ago I did a number of blog posts about Egyptian artifacts that are still at Hadrian's villa (see my posts from December of 2014) and many others now in Munich that were found at this Roman emperor's home.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Senwosret III

     The sculptures shown in the previous post are not the only examples of royal art from the Middle Kingdom that show the pharaoh as careworn. The example here is now in the Metropolitan Museum. It is carved from quartzite and is highly expressive despite its damaged state.

     Senwosret III is here shown with heavy-lidded eyes and a downturned, almost sad looking mouth. The eye brows are heavy and creased just above the nose.

     There is a great deal of speculation as to why the Middle Kingdom kings were shown with such expressive faces. In both the Old and New Kingdoms, the Pharaoh is almost always shown as eternally youthful and with an expression of serene confidence, but not so in the Middle Kingdom. Did the Pharaohs of the Middle kingdom remember the hard times of the First Intermediate Period and foresee to oncoming difficulties of the Second Intermediate Period? Or are modern scholars reading way to much into this art style? It is hard to say, but it does create lively conversations among art historians.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Odd First Intermediate Period Stela

     The First Intermediate Period was a period of political instability. The artwork of the period is best called "provincial" as the well off nobles did not have access to the best sculptors and, for the most part, the artwork from this time shows it.

     This particular stela was carved for a man named Maaty and his wife Dedwi. The carvings are sunk fairly deep into the stone and then filled with paint or a paste of some sort. The inscription above Maaty and Dedwi contains the standard offering formula that reads from right to left and starts, "A gift given by the King and by Anubis, who is upon his hill..."
     A cynic would say that all First Intermediate Period stelae are odd, but this one has a quirk I have never seen before. Look on the right side of the third line of the text. The line starts with the signs "f nb nefer". Look carefully at the nefer sign (figure 2). The center of the bottom portion of the symbol is "hollow". This is, to the best of my knowledge, the only time this sign is carved in this way. What is the significance of this? It is hard to tell to be honest.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Middle Kingdom Royal Statues

Fig. 1 - Senwosret III (British Museum)
Fig. 2 - Senwosret III (detail)
     Middle Kingdom royal statuary is very different from Old Kingdom royal statues. In the Old Kingdom the king is shown with a serene, almost superior look on his face. He can handle any and all problems and nothing could possibly go wrong.

Fig. 4 - Senwosret III
Fig. 3 - Senwosret III (Brooklyn Museum)
     The First Intermediate Period shattered this illusion. Things could go badly wrong and the Pharaoh was far from infallible. As a result, royal statues from the Middle Kingdom often show the king with a care-worn expression on his face, almost as if the difficulties of his office are overly stressful even for a living god like the Pharaoh. A good example of this is a statue of Senwosret III (figures 1 and 2) that was found at Dier el-Bahri in the temple of Nebhepetre Mentuhotep (who re-unified Egypt and brought the First Intermediate Period to an end). This statue, with its downturned mouth and tired looking eyes, shows the King as a weary figure dealing with the tremendous responsibility of managing his kingdom.

     The statue in figures 3 and 4 once again shows the Pharaoh Senwosret III. The statue does harken back to the famous statue of Khafre (4th Dynasty) that is now in the Cairo Museum by showing the King seated on his throne, wearing a Nemes headdress and a "kilt". But Khafre is shown with a quietly confident look on his face, while this statue of Senwosret is strikingly different in that it shows the King once-again as careworn and almost sad.

     Another change in royal statuary is the appearance of statues carved on a colossal scale (I am not aware of a truly colossal statue dating to the Old Kingdom). The head shown in figure 5 is part of a statue found in Bubastis. The lower portion of the statue is carved with the name of Osorkon II (Dynasty 22), but the style of the face marks this piece of art as a representation of Amenemhat II. Not the deeply carved eyes which would have had insets placed in to represent the royal eyes.

Fig. 5 - Head of Amenemhat III, British Museum